Emotions During Diagnosis: Free to Be a Champion

  • I remember sitting in the neurologist’s office feeling it was more like a courtroom. It was as though I was on trial for a crime I didn’t commit.

    After reviewing all the evidence – including numbness in my hands, feet and chest and the shocking sensation down my spine which investigators referred to as Lhermitte’s Syndrome – the radiologist had charged me, Dan Digmann, with having Multiple Sclerosis.

    I did nothing to warrant these allegations, but all the evidence presented to the judge (my neurologist) indicated I was less than innocent. The judge had put me on the stand a few weeks prior, did some further questioning and ordered some forensic-like testing, such as an MRI of my entire nervous system and a spinal tap, the results of which would seal my fate.

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    As the judge entered the courtroom on that fateful day, I greeted him with a wounded sort of smile. He had done me no wrong, I just had nothing left.

    It had been nearly two and a half months since the radiologist had brought the charges against me. I was emotionally whipped. Tired of sobbing. Worn out from worrying. Exhausted by anger. Drained from countless sleepless nights.

    The judge hung the MRI evidence on a lighted screen in front of me. He turned and looked me in the eyes, pointed back to the X-ray-like scans of my white-spotted brain and said I was guilty as charged. I had MS and, barring any cure for the disease, he sentenced me to lifetime with the chronic illness and no eligibility for parole.

    I sat motionless for a few seconds and then cracked a long-absent smile on my face as an unexpected sense of calm consumed me. I was just diagnosed with having Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic disease of the central nervous system.

    For more than eight weeks I had lived trapped by the fear of the unknown. Now I knew, and I had all the power in deciding how to live with this confirmed reality. I had the choice in whether I wanted to take the words “you have MS” as being my lifetime sentence or my lifetime call to action.

    I had smiled at my neurologist because I knew he was going to be my adversary in taking action to control this disease as best as I can. Think of that: The judge who sentenced me now is my partner in crime.

    I returned home from my sentencing and had the best night sleep of the past two and a half months. I woke up rested and realized that I was no different than I was the previous day, week or month. It’s just that I was formally diagnosed with MS, and that marked my first day of taking action against it.

    Since then I’ve logged more than 4,200 days in my fight against the disease. I work hard to come out swinging every day, from taking disease-modifying medicines, exercising, advocating for myself and others with MS, and pushing myself to maintain a positive attitude.

    While there are days I feel like I’m in the middle of a stretch in solitary confinement during a lifetime sentence, at the end of each day I find a way to make myself feel like a champion in my battles, celebrating each victory I claim.

  • I was sentenced to a life with MS, but I’m still free to be a champion every day.

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Published On: July 11, 2011